Kings Highway

The northern counterpart of the South Jersey road was ordered by King Charles II to connect the colonies.

by Vince Farinaccio

We’ve probably all heard of the Kings Highway that runs through a series of South Jersey towns, including Cherry Hill. Fragments of its slightly older and more prestigious counterpart, which also predates the American Revolution, was once a connection between Philadelphia and New York City.

There are some notable distinctions between the two roadways besides their locations within the state. One hinges on an apostrophe, which is usually used to designate the more northern of the two roads. And while both are named in honor of England’s King Charles II, only one of them was constructed from the orders of this monarch. And only one of the two is part of a much larger highway spanning most of the colonies in the days of British rule.

According to online sources, Charles II ordered the construction of the King’s Highway to connect 10 of the American colonies from South Carolina to Massachusetts between 1650 and 1735. The roadway began its 1,300-mile northward climb from Charlestown (now Charleston), South Carolina, winding its way through North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and ending in Boston. Beginning in the 1760s, the highway extended into additional colonies.

The Only in Your State website reports that in New Jersey “the highway once ran through towns including Newark, Elizabeth, Rahway, Perth Amboy, New Brunswick, Princeton, Lawrenceville, Trenton, Bordentown, and Burlington.” The road was used extensively throughout the colonies for mail delivery and, according to An Account of ye Post of ye Continent of Nth. America as they were Regulated by ye Postmasters Genl. of ye Post House, New Jersey postal offices could be found in Burlington and Perth Amboy.

Today, fragments of the original road can still be found in most of these towns, but a significant stretch of it exists, according to the Only in Your State website, “along Route 206 between mile markers 48.30 and 53.90 and along New Jersey Route 27 from mile marker 0.0 to mile marker 4.10.”

This stretch of road, dubbed the King’s Highway Historic District, “was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000,” the Only in Your State website explains, and “passes through eight different historic districts and six buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places,” including Drumthwacket, Morven, the Lawrenceville School and Nassau Hall.

Eleven years after construction of King’s Highway began, the General Assembly at Burlington approved a survey for the purpose of building a roadway between Perth Amboy and Salem. This would become Kings Highway. The nj.searchroots.com website explains that Kings Highway passed through “the town of Woodbury and the villages of Berkeley (Mt. Royal), Clarksboro and Mickleton,” while other sources report that today’s Route 41, legislated in 1927, constitutes the portion of Kings Highway from Deptford Township to Route 38 in Moorestown.

The Salem portion of Kings Highway was fitted with more than one moniker over the centuries, nj.searchroots.com tells us: “Variously known as Salem Avenue, Salem Pike, Gloucester and Salem Turnpike Road, Salem Turnpike and Swedesboro Turnpike, it once again became known as Kings Highway by ordinance adopted April 9, 1963 by the Township Committee.”

Kings Highway has a renowned legacy for those who reportedly traveled it. “During the Revolutionary War,” nj.searchroots.com reports, “Lord Cornwallis and his men travelled it, and stretched their arms around a famous oak tree which stood at the time, just in front of the Friends Meeting House in Mickleton. Crown Prince Gustaf Adolph of Sweden rode down it in 1938 as Sweden’s representative at the Tercentary celebration of the first Swedish landing on American Soil. The Duke of Windsor, former King of England visited it in 1942.”

Vestiges of a bygone era, these two highways still serve New Jersey in their fifth century.

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